From ‘In Search of Duende’ by Federico Garcia Lorca

Why bother writing anything at all when you can read Maestro Lorca? Here translated into bright words scooped from the searing wind of shared and bloody pain by Christoper Maurer.

The great artists of the south of Spain, whether Gypsy or flamenco, whether they sing, dance, or play, know that no emotion is possible unless the duende comes. They may be able to fool people into thinking the have duende—authors and painters and literary fashionmongers do so every day—but we have only to pay a little attention and surrender to indifference in order to discover the fraud and chase away their clumsy artifice.

The Andalusian singer Pastora Pavón, La Nina de los Peines, dark Hispanic genius whose powers of fantasy are equal to those of Goya or Rafael el Gallo, was once singing in a little tavern in Cádiz. For a while she played with her voice of shadow, of beaten tin, her moss-covered voice, braiding it into her hair or soaking it in wine or letting it wander away to the farthest, darkest bramble patches. No use. Nothing. The audience remained silent.

In the same room was Ignacio Espeleta, handsome as a Roman turtle, who had once been asked, “How come you don’t work?” and had answered, with a smile worthy of Argantonius, “Work? Why? I’m from Cádiz!” And there was Hot Elvira, aristocratic Sevillian whore, direct descendant of Soledad Vargas who in 1930 refused to marry a Rothschild because he was not of equal blood. And the Floridas, whom the people take to be ranchers, but who are really millennial priests who still sacrific bulls to Geryon. And in one corner sat the formidable bull rancher Don Pablo Murube, with the air of a Cretan mask. When Pastora Pavón finished singing there was total silence, until a tiny man, one of those dancing manikins that rise suddenly out of brandy bottles, sarcastically murmured “Long live Paris!” As if to say: “Here we care nothing about ability, technique, skill. Here we are after something else.”

As though crazy, torn like a medieval mourner, La Nina de los Peines leapt to her feet, tossed off a big glass of burning liquor, and began to sing with a scorched throat: without voice, without breath or colour, but with duende. She was able to kill all the scaffolding of the song and leave way for a furious, enslaving duende, friend of sand winds, who made the listeners rip their clothes with the same rhythm as do the blacks of the Antilles when, in the ‘lucumí’ rite, they huddle in heaps before the statue of Santa Barbara.

La Nina de los Peines had to tear her voice because she knew she had an exquisite audience, one which demanded not forms but the marrow of forms, pure music, with a body lean enough to stay in the air. She had to rob herself of skill and security, send away her muse and become helpless, that her duende might come and deign to fight her hand-to-hand. And how she sang! Her voice was no longer playing. It was a jet of blood worthy of her pain and her sincerity, and it opened like a ten-fingered hand around the nailed but stormy feet of a Christ by Juan de Juni.

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7 thoughts on “From ‘In Search of Duende’ by Federico Garcia Lorca

  1. Merci pour votre témoignage , à la hauteur du duende.
    On vit la scène comme si on y était et quelle belle écriture!
    Gisèle de Provence
    I’m sure you read french..

  2. Why bother writing anything at all? It seems you’ve really taken that to heart – given your long, long absence from here. So why bother? As a Buddhist who spent her formative years in the Himalayas but who has had no opportunity to return for 25 years it has been inspiring to read of OT, life in bir and so on. You really bring the scene to life and let me experience it vicariously through your writing. I just can’t help wondering if your absence has anything to do with DKR’s prohibition on his students writing about initiations and so forth. Yet it’s hard to imagine that your blog would be seen as transgressive. So what’s the deal Janine? cheers matilda

    1. Dear Matilda, Thank you, you’ve warmed my heart! No, I haven’t stopped writing because DJK doesn’t want Vajrayana stuff plastered over the internet (which, it must be said, he’s quite right about). I haven’t written because I ran out of steam and interesting things to say. Plus, I’ve had to focus on editing quite a difficult text which has taken all my time and energy. I’m sorry. If I go back to India this winter I promise I’ll tell you about it. And thank you again for writing to me, love, Janine.

  3. Dear Janine, thank you for your response, no need to apologise, after all it’s a bit of a oneway street! A street on which you are doing virtually all of the heavy-lifting. I look forward to the resumption of your blog. Now if we could just get Noa Jones to keep up her postings, my life would be sweet again. Perhaps one day fortune will smile on me and i will make the trek back to mother India. cheers matilda

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